Pros and Cons of Each Top Candidate to Replace Dan Mullen at Florida
Two years removed from consecutive 10-win seasons, Dan Mullen is no longer the head football coach at Florida. The Gators fired him Sunday, one day after their 24-23 loss to Missouri.
The support Mullen built in Gainesville thanks to that hot start disintegrated rapidly after the Gators dropped four of their last five games. And the rumor mill spins just as quickly.
There's no time to waste on the coaching carousel, which already featured the USC and LSU jobs. As the earliest rumors of options to replace Mullen come flooding in, we're exploring the primary reasons for and against each top candidate.
The Gators aren't guaranteed to hire one of these coaches, but they will likely focus their initial attention on this group.
Among the earliest candidates, Bob Stoops is the most proven coach. During his 18-year tenure at Oklahoma, he posted a 190-48 record with 10 conference titles and one national championship.
Stoops is also familiar with the Florida job, having served as the defensive coordinator for the 1996 national title-winning team. Stoops spent three seasons (1996-98) in Gainesville under Steve Spurrier, who today is an ambassador in the UF athletic department.
Stoops' 18-year OU tenure ended when he announced his retirement from coaching in June 2017. However, he briefly returned to the sidelines as the XFL's Dallas Renegades head coach and general manager.
Stoops is now 61 years old and might not have interest in leaving his role as a Fox Sports analyst.
Todd Monken is a reputable and well-traveled offensive mind. He's bounced around the college and pro ranks throughout his 32-year coaching career, most recently serving as the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns prior to joining Georgia's staff for the 2020 season.
Plus, he orchestrated an impressive turnaround at Southern Miss. The team finished 0-12 before his arrival in 2013. In 2015, the Golden Eagles went 9-5 and reached the C-USA title game.
While that Southern Miss success is impressive, the SEC is a whole different beast. Monken has done well as an assistant, but the transition to being the boss doesn't always go as hoped.
Given he's currently at Georgia—which mangled Florida this season—Monken has a clear understanding of the challenge facing the Gators. Does he want to leave a title-contending recruiting juggernaut in favor of a program that has to compete with that title-contending recruiting juggernaut every year?
The latest member of the Nick Saban Coaching Rehab Program, Bill O'Brien is coordinating a terrific Alabama scoring attack in 2021. That offensive acumen is what guided him from being a New England Patriots assistant to head coaching gigs at Penn State and with the Houston Texans.
At the college level, O'Brien most notably steadied a Penn State program reeling from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He guided the Nittany Lions to a 15-9 record in 2012 and 2013 combined.
Will O'Brien have wandering eyes for the NFL? If he wants to rejoin a pro team, that's entirely understandable. He has spent only three of the last 15 seasons at a college program.
Recruiting was a source of frustration in Mullen's tenure, too. Although the Gators consistently had top-15 classes, they often lacked the top-tier prospects that Alabama and Georgia land annually. O'Brien is relatively unproven on the trail, which might not help matters.
An early graduate of the Nick Saban Coaching Rehab Program, Billy Napier has resurrected his career over the last decade.
Napier left his spot as Arizona State's offensive coordinator to take over Louisiana in 2018. During his time, the Ragin' Cajuns have a 38-12 record with four straight Sun Belt West division titles.
Everybody wants Napier. Good luck finding a major vacancy that doesn't include Napier as a rumored candidate. The in-state connection with LSU may be tough to overcome, too.
Napier has earned the chance for a prestigious job, whether that's LSU or Florida or somewhere else. Still, this is a massive step up in competition.
Napier has been an assistant in the SEC, but Florida would be taking a calculated risk as he shifts from the Sun Belt to the nation's most competitive conference.
Mullen headed to Florida with a reputation as a quarterback guru. Matt Campbell, meanwhile, has a reputation for top-notch player development. He entered 2021 with three eight-win seasons at Iowa State, which had exactly seven of those in its 118-year history prior to Campbell's arrival in 2016.
Additionally, he notched a 35-15 record in four seasons (plus a game as the interim head coach) at Toledo. Campbell has basically spent the decade as a winning coach.
There's a difference between a "winning coach" and a "championship coach." Iowa State entered 2021 as a Top 10 team expected to compete for a Big 12 title, but it enters the regular-season finale at 6-5.
When asked about falling short of a conference crown, Campbell said that was "never my goal" and that he wanted the Cyclones to "become the best version of ourselves we can become."
It's a nice sentiment to protect his players. It also won't endear Campbell to a fanbase expecting a new coach to focus on national championships.
Florida fans know Mark Stoops all too well.
In 2018, Mullen's first year, Kentucky snapped a 31-game losing streak to the Gators. This season, Kentucky's 20-13 win sparked Mullen's demise.
Stoops has studied the weaknesses he would be inheriting.
He also has seven years of experience as an assistant in the Sunshine State. His previous stops include South Florida (1996), Miami (2001-03) and Florida State (2010-12).
Stoops has a tremendous situation in Lexington.
If the Wildcats win eight games, it's celebrated. They've accomplished that feat only 12 times in program history, including this season. On the other hand, eight wins is typically viewed as failure in Gainesville.
Most importantly, Stoops' $5.25 million salary in 2021 is the 15th-highest total in the country. Florida would likely give him a raise—Mullen made $7.57 million this year—but the combination of a great contract and realistic expectations at UK is impossible to ignore.
The most prominent graduate of the Saban Coaching Rehab Program, Lane Kiffin has excelled since leaving Alabama. He landed at Florida Atlantic in 2017, won two C-USA titles in three seasons, left for Ole Miss and has the Rebels as a Top 10 team in 2021.
Kiffin's reputation as a brilliant offensive mind is well-deserved.
Even beyond the increased budget at Florida, winning in the SEC West is extremely difficult. Hopping divisions may be appealing to Kiffin, especially as a senior-heavy Ole Miss team enters a mini-rebuild.
Winning anywhere in the SEC is extremely difficult. What if another job, such as Miami, opens up?
If Kiffin stays at Ole Miss, he'll keep dealing with Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. If he leaves for Florida, he'll deal with Kirby Smart. Lincoln Riley's Oklahoma is entering the league soon. (Texas is, too).
Kiffin has never sustained long-term success at one program. He bolted Tennessee after one year and flamed out following 43 games at USC. Then he rightfully took a promotion from FAU to Ole Miss.
Kiffin would be the splashiest hire to replace Mullen at Florida. But he also has plenty to prove.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.